Implementing a Distinctive Approach to Security

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The European Security Strategy

Implementing a Distinctive Approach to Security

Dr. Sven Biscop

Royal Institute for International Relations, Brussels

Published by the Royal Defence College (IRSD-KHID), Brussels

In: ‘Sécurité & Stratégie’, Paper No. 82, March 2004


Royal Institute for International Relations (IRRI-KIIB)

Rue de Namur 69, 1000 Brussels

Tel. (++32) 02/223.41.14 – Fax (++32) 02/223.41.16 –

Preface: Strategic Surprise

In December 2002, the Security & Global Governance Department of the Royal Institute for International Relations (IRRI-KIIB), at the request of the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, initiated a strategic reflection on Europe’s security policy. The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) of the EU, so it was felt, was lacking strategic clarity, a clear definition of its interests and long-term policy objectives. Under the direction of Prof. Dr. Rik Coolsaet and myself, an informal working group was set up, comprising members from the diplomatic, military, intelligence and academic worlds. To all of them, I owe my sincerest gratitude. Without their input of ideas and their informed critiques of my work, this paper could never have been written.

The aim of our working group was to forge a European strategic concept, in order to stimulate a strategic debate, which at that time, outside of academic circles, was almost nonexistent. Then in early May 2003 the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the EU achieved strategic surprise as they tasked the High Representative for the CFSP, Dr. Javier Solana, with the elaboration of a strategic document. Out of the blue the strategic debate that we had hoped to stimulate was all over us. So far for our grand ambitions – which political scientist does not secretly hope to alter the course of history through his writings – but, in the wake of the Iraq divide, this was marvellous news for the EU indeed.

Henceforth, having rediscovered our modesty, we reoriented ourselves: rather than continuing it as a project on its own, we now explicitly framed our work in Solana’s major endeavour, seeing it as a Belgian contribution to the broad debate that the EU organized following the presentation of Solana’s first draft, ‘A Secure Europe in a Better World’, to the Thessalonica European Council in June 2003.

The result of our work, ‘A European Security Concept for the 21st Century’,1 was formally presented to Javier Solana and Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Louis Michel at an IRRI-KIIB conference on 26 November 2003, organized in collaboration with the three institutes that hosted the seminars that the EU set up in the Fall of 2003 to discuss the draft Strategy: Aspen Institute Italia, the EU Institute for Security Studies and the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.2 These seminars allowed for a thorough debate between EU officials, politicians, diplomats, the military, academics, journalists and NGOs.3 Furthermore, an analysis of the draft Strategy was published as Policy Paper No. 8 by Notre Europe, the Paris-based think tank presided by former Commission President Jacques Delors.4

Since the adoption of the final European Security Strategy by the Brussels European Council in December 2003, IRRI-KIIB has been continuing its work on the issue, with the organization of a second conference on 18 February 2004, again in collaboration with the three institutes, and the publication, thanks to the kind cooperation of the Centre for Defence Studies, of this paper. The aim of the paper is to present an analysis of the approach advocated by the Strategy, comparing the first draft to the final version, and to suggest steps to further the Strategy’s implementation. The first chapter outlines the historical context, explaining the absence of a strategy until recently, while arguing on the basis of actual EU policies that in recent years a distinct European approach to security was already emerging. The second chapter then provides a brief overview of ‘new’ approaches to security that have been elaborated by other international organizations and academics, before proceeding with the analysis of the actual Strategy in chapter 3. Chapter 4 goes into more depth with regard to the concept of comprehensive security that underlies the Strategy, analyzing it from a normative perspective. Then follows a more practical chapter 5, which discusses the Strategy’s implementation. Finally, a brief conclusion is offered.

The elaboration of a Security Strategy by Dr. Solana and his Policy Unit without doubt is one of the most exciting, but certainly also one of the most important projects the EU has recently undertaken in the broad field of foreign and security policy. To be able to offer one’s own modest contribution to this stirring debate is not work – it is a pleasure.

Dr. Sven Biscop

1. From Practice to Strategy

Security is ‘the condition of being protected from or not exposed to danger; […] a feeling of safety or freedom from or absence of danger’.5 Also described as ‘freedom from fear’, security thus clearly contains a subjective element, an element of perception. The latter part of the definition can also be expressed as ‘confidence in the future’, which has a more positive ring to it. Since there are many kinds of danger, security is by nature a very broad concept that comprises several dimensions.

Security policy can then be defined as a policy aiming to keep an object, in this case the values and interests of the EU, safe. Traditionally, security policy was associated only with its military dimension, with the use of politico-military instruments.6 For the purpose of this paper, defence policy is defined as the aspect of security policy that has to do with self-defence against acts of aggression.

A strategy is a policy-making tool which, on the basis of the values and interests of the EU, outlines the long-term overall policy objectives to be achieved and the basic categories of instruments to be applied to that end. It serves as a reference framework for day-to-day policy-making in a rapidly evolving and increasingly complex international environment and it guides the definition of the means – i.e. the civilian and military capabilities – that need to be developed.

1.1 Strategic Void

The need to tackle the means was what there was consensus about back in 1998, when the process leading to the creation of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), the military dimension of the CFSP, was launched.7 The British turnabout that was announced at the informal Pörtschach European Council (24–25 October) and at the Franco-British St-Malo summit (3–4 December), i.e. London’s willingness to build a military capacity in the framework of the EU, was welcomed by all Member States. The need to improve the usability of European armed forces, highlighted by the Member States’ difficulties to field 40 to 50 000 troops in Kosovo while having over 1.5 million men and women in uniform, was evident to all. The UK accepted the fact that for the other Member States, for budgetary as well as for political reasons, this would only be feasible through increased European cooperation, a solution implying the creation of EU military bodies: the Military Committee (EUMC) and the Military Staff (EUMS).

But there consensus ended. Member States widely differed on the political/strategic dimension, a debate which goes far beyond ESDP, beyond the CFSP even, as it concerns the whole of EU external action, across all three pillars. What should be the scope of the EU’s foreign and security policy ambitions? What degree of autonomy should the EU have? And what then should be the precise role of the military instrument in EU external action? In the British view, European military capabilities would still primarily be put to use in the framework of NATO, as the main if not exclusive forum for decision-making on security policy. Others certainly preferred the EU to define and implement policies of its own. Even on the assessment of the security environment, Member States differed, with threat perceptions being influenced by individual States’ proximity to specific unstable regions.8 Because of these deep-running divisions and in order not to lose the momentum, it was decided, as happens so often in European decision-making, to push through with those elements on which an agreement existed, i.e. the means and institutions of ESDP, assuming that once these were in place the strategic debate would inevitably have to follow.

Accordingly, following the December 1999 European Council in Helsinki, where the ‘Headline Goal’9 was defined, the EU started building military – ESDP – and civilian capabilities for crisis management, without possessing an overall strategic framework for its external action. In Article 11, the Treaty on European Union (TEU) does define the objectives of the CFSP,10 but these are statements of principle rather than policy objectives and hence far too general to provide a framework for daily policy-making. As to the role of the military instrument, the TEU stipulates which types of operations the EU can launch, by including the so-called Petersberg Tasks, as originally defined by the WEU, in Article 17 – humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping tasks and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking – but it provides no guidelines as to the circumstances under which the use of the military instrument can be considered.

The absence of an explicit strategy need not be a problem if all those involved in policy-making share the same basic views and can thus easily reach a consensus on policies that fit within these general guidelines, even if they are not explicitly written down. But with regard to the external policies of the EU, this is clearly not the case. There was no common strategic vision behind the existing – but incomplete – consensus on the need to develop more effective military capabilities for the EU. As a consequence, EU external action has lacked direction, determination and consistency. Faced with the initiatives of a dominant global player, the US, that is both very determined and very powerful and that does possess an explicit strategy – the National Security Strategy adopted in September 2002 – the EU is necessarily restricted to a reactive role. Without a clear strategy of its own, the EU cannot escape the American framework of thought and promote its own policy priorities in terms of both objectives and instruments.

1.2 Strategic Indications

That is not to say of course that EU external action has been completely ad hoc. Over the years, a distinctive European approach to security has emerged, which is characterized by a broad, multidimensional or comprehensive notion of security, which starts from the interdependence between all dimensions of security – political, socio-economic, ecologic, cultural and military – rather than just focusing on the latter; hence the need to set objectives and apply instruments in all of these fields. A further characteristic is a focus on dialogue, cooperation and partnership, or cooperative security. This approach can be deducted from actual EU policies.

In its 2001 Communication on Conflict Prevention11 e.g. the Commission proposed to address the ‘root causes of conflict’ by promoting ‘structural stability’, defined as ‘sustainable economic development, democracy and respect for human rights, viable political structures and healthy environmental and social conditions, with the capacity to manage change without resort to conflict’. The EU Programme for the Prevention of Violent Conflicts12 that is based on the above communication calls for an integrated policy, surpassing the pillar structure, and defines conflict prevention as a priority for all of the EU’s external action. It also lists EU instruments for both long-term structural prevention and short-term direct prevention. The EU has now developed instruments such as the Country and Regional Strategy Papers, which outline policy priorities, the Check-List for Root Causes of Conflict and the continually revised Watch List of Priority Countries (countries where there is a serious risk of conflict). But what the EU is lacking is a conceptual dimension that brings its range of external policies together and that can serve as a framework for the comprehensive and integrated approach that is advocated in the Programme for the Prevention of Violent Conflicts.

A comprehensive approach to security is particularly characteristic of EU policy with respect to neighbouring States, which it attempts to integrate in an encompassing network of relations: witness the Stability Pact for the Balkans, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP), and the successful transition of Central and Eastern Europe, probably the most significant European achievement since the start of the European integration project itself. Under the heading ‘Wider Europe/Neighbourhood Policy’, this approach was recently promoted by the Commission as an enhanced framework for relations between the EU and its neighbours.13 The aim of the Neighbourhood Policy would be to achieve an ‘area of shared prosperity and values’ by creating close partnerships with the EU’s neighbouring States. This should lead to in-depth economic integration, close political and cultural relations and a joint responsibility for conflict prevention. To that end, the EU would offer very concrete ‘benefits’, in the fields of market access and investments for example, which should be linked to progress made towards political and economic reforms in the neighbouring States.

When it comes to long-term policies, the comprehensive and cooperative approach to security does seem to emerge as the predominant characteristic of most areas of EU external action. Keukeleire calls these spheres of action ‘the structural foreign policy’ of the EU. They are less visible than traditional diplomacy or ‘high politics’, but nonetheless they represent a huge and often very successful effort on the part of the EU.14 A similar picture emerges from Bretherton and Vogler’s major study of the EU as global actor.15 The EU’s profile in these areas corresponds to the often-used definition of the EU as a ‘civilian power’, i.e. an actor which seeks to influence the international environment in the long term – which has ‘milieu’ rather than ‘possession goals’16 – which operates mainly through economic, diplomatic and ideological power and via multilateralism, and which is inspired not only by material interests, but also by norms and ideas.17 A number of implicit strategic assumptions guide EU policy in this regard; this represents an important acquis. Yet these assumptions need to be substantiated and policy areas need to be integrated in order to arrive at a framework for maximally consistent, coherent and effective external action.

But when the EU is confronted with acute crises, such as the one in Iraq, these implicit assumptions have proved to be insufficient to arrive at a common policy. More often than not, the EU fails to achieve consensus on how to respond to such crises, even when the instruments and means to do so are at hand. 18 As a result, little or no effective action is taken – hence the need to define a strategy as a framework for dealing with crisis situations.

At first, the EU did react jointly to the terrorist attacks of ‘9/11’. Its differentiated response, which focuses on the underlying causes of terrorism, is another example of the comprehensive approach. The extraordinary European Council meeting of 21 September 2001 called for ‘an in-depth political dialogue with those countries and regions of the world in which terrorism comes into being’ and ‘the integration of all countries into a fair world system of security, prosperity and improved development’. ‘9/11’ was therefore not a turning point for EU external action. Rather it served to confirm the view that a policy that focuses exclusively on military instruments cannot achieve long-term stability or ensure national security.19 The subsequent events, notably Washington’s declaration of a war on terrorism and the US invasion of Iraq, led to deep divisions within the EU however, between on the one hand those joining the American-led coalition of the willing invading and occupying Iraq – led by the UK, Spain, Poland – and on the other hand those resisting the use of force without sufficient UN mandate and before the exhaustion of all other options – led by Belgium, France, Germany. Or between ‘new’ and ‘old Europe’, as US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld worded it, putting the motto of divide et impera to good use. The unwillingness of the latter group to join the invading coalition provoked uncommonly sharp criticism from a US government that could not understand their reluctance; a transatlantic crisis on top of the intra-European one was the result. At an extraordinary meeting on 17 February 2003 the European Council did state that ‘force should be used only as a last resort’ and emphasised the importance of reinvigorating the Middle East peace process if peace and stability are to be brought to the region. But due to its internal divisions, the EU as such was absent from the scene.

A clear-cut strategy should be able to avoid such damaging internal divides and ensure the EU’s participation in international decision-making. The EU operation in the Congo, ‘Artemis’, even though it was of limited duration (12 June – 1 September 2003) and had limited objectives (the stabilisation of the security conditions and the improvement of the humanitarian situation in the city of Bunia), was certainly not of limited risk, and has demonstrated that the EU can act rapidly and decisively if the political will is there. Therefore the taboo on strategic thinking at European level needed to be broken and the strategic concepts of the individual Member States – some more, others less elaborate – aligned.

A strategy would not only provide the reference framework that is needed for day-today policy-making. It should also determine the instruments and capabilities that are being developed, rather than the other way around. This is especially so with regard to ESDP: the EU’s ambitions and the role it sees for the military instrument, should guide force planning at the EU level. A Strategy would further bring political benefits.20 If consensus can be found on the EU’s general approach to security and on what it will and will not do, those Member States that are now reluctant about the EU’s security dimension, out of resistance against a perceived ‘militarisation’ of external action or for fear of undermining the transatlantic alliance, might be persuaded to fully support converting the EU into an effective international actor.21 Of course, one can question the degree to which some of the larger Member States, even those that are playing the European card, are really willing to ‘Europeanise’ their security policies. Will they stop at the technical level of pooling capabilities for efficiency purposes, or will they be willing to accept the full implications, in terms of national policy-making and sovereignty, of their demands for a stronger and therefore more unified Europe? In any event, a strategy would provide a clear framework for policy-making and would thus render unilateral action more difficult. Such a step might also alleviate the misgivings among the EU’s neighbours about a build-up of military capacity which in their view lacks clear objectives, and could thus very well be directed against them. Finally, the adoption of a strategy would increase the openness and democratic legitimacy that are needed to gain the vital support of public opinion.

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